Br John Moylan, BA (Adelaide), MA (Fordham), M Ed (ACU), a regular contributor to 'AD2000', with wide teaching experience in four states of Australia, was invited to help set up Chavagnes International College in its first year. With the blessing of his Christian Brothers congregation, he accepted the challenge. Br Moylan filed the following progress report for AD2000 before returning to Australia in July.
Chavagnes International College is situated in Chavagnes-en-Paillers, a village of 3,000 people in the Vend´e region of France, 30 minutes from Nantes, now France's fourth largest city.
The founder of the school is Ferdi McDermott, an Englishman in his 30s. An accomplished linguist, and steeped in the humanities, theology, liturgy, and cultural fields generally, he was very active at Edinburgh University in Catholic affairs.
Mr McDermott's family literally sold the family farm to help purchase the former minor seminary, refurbish it and develop a first-class Catholic English-speaking international college for boys aged 9 to 18, which follows the English curriculum and prepares students for the top level public examinations of that country. One of the trustees is the bishop of the local diocese, Lucon, Bishop Michel Santier, who has given the college his full support.
All the teachers are talented, Catholic educators and scholars who believe strongly that, with God's help, Catholic schools have the potential to produce outstanding Catholic men, loyal and committed to Christ and His Church. There are also highly qualified visiting teachers for art, piano, organ and other musical instruments.
Nearly all the boys study four languages, English, Latin, French and Spanish, with Maths, physics, science, chemistry, history, geography, music, computing, choir and art also among the subject offerings at present. Gymnastics, cross country running and skill training in various sports are also included.
A soaring magnificent Gothic style chapel, with a large, French Romantic pipe organ, glorious stained glass windows and life-size Stations of the Cross is at the centre of the college. The views of the French countryside from the college bell tower, the highest point in the village, are breath-taking.
A large indoor playing area, outside tennis and basketball courts, a virtually fully equipped gymnasium, a hundred and seventy seat theatre, a library with several fairly rare masterpieces among its hundreds of books, and computers for pupil use are examples of a long list of facilities which would take some matching anywhere in the world.
Each weekday begins with 7.20am Mass, said sometimes in Latin and sometimes in English. The middle-aged full-time chaplain, Fr Nathan Vail, from California, is a former seminary rector, scripture lecturer and classical scholar. His brief homilies, given daily, are inspiring to both boys and teachers.
Church's rich heritage
The boys approach the Sacrament of Penance regularly, are at Mass each morning, and say with the staff a daily decade of the Rosary. There is Eucharistic adoration, Benediction twice a week and Vespers, chanted in Latin, once a week. All students and resident staff attend both.
The Sunday Eucharist is prepared very carefully with the boys looking forward to it and very actively involved. All except the two servers for the week and the organist form the choir with some staff members, drawing on the very best in the Church's rich heritage. Gregorian plain chant, basic polyphony, motets, and madrigals are already part of the repertoire of the several school choirs.
The Sunday and Saturday afternoon activities are very much enjoyed, with a trip to the famous theme park, Puys de Fou, or a visit to a castle, museum, or chateau of one of the local noble families - who could not be more supportive. A pilgrimage to Lourdes and another from Paris to Chartres are to come later in the school year, as well as two or three nights in a French Benedictine Monastery.
It is a very special joy teaching Religion at Chavagnes with the boys really interested and positive about learning their faith and putting it into practice. It should be obvious that there is much more to the religious education of boys at the school than the formal classroom lessons.
One parent, whose 15-year-old son had been home-schooled, commented that he was "thoroughly enjoying his studies, daily routine, exciting extra curricula events, and of course the friendship he has with the pupils ... It is such a relief to know that his faith is being protected, nourished and developed and that he is enjoying life in France!"
The grandmother of one of the students whom she is helping to support at the college, with over 40 years of teaching and leadership in Catholic schools observed: "Where else in this day and age can there be found a school where religious and moral values and a real devotion to the spiritual life of the school comes so naturally to the boys as part of their very happy daily life."
There are two obvious, but not insurmountable, obstacles for any Australians attending Chavagnes - expense and distance. The college realises that travel expenses for Australian students and their parents are heavier than those of others and, if necessary, will grant generous concessions. It does not want to exclude anybody on financial grounds.
I could not recommend Chavagnes International College more highly to parents who long not only for a first class academic, cultural and social education for their sons, but an education in which the Catholic faith will be appreciated and nourished in every possible way.
- More information, photos and suggestions of how the school can be helped or contacted can be found on the college website - www.chavagnes.org